Everton’s 2010/11 campaign followed a frustratingly familiar pattern: pre-season optimism, early season disappointment and New Year rejuvenation. In the relegation zone as autumn turned to winter, David Moyes rallied his players after Christmas to finish seventh; a place higher than last season, despite continuing to work under strict financial restraints that prevented reinforcements in the January transfer window and enduring a mid-season injury crisis that, at one point, forced the manager to name a substitutes’ bench without a senior outfield player.
The season got off to a bad start when a Tim Howard blunder on the opening day gave Blackburn Rovers a 1-0 victory, and matters only deteriorated from there. It took Everton until the seventh game to record a first victory of the season, a run in which they picked up just three points and found the net only four times – three of which during one game, the 3-3 draw with Manchester United. That run also took in defeat on penalties against Brentford in the Carling Cup. However, when the win finally came, against relegated Birmingham City, it heralded a run of six games unbeaten, including a home victory over Liverpool.
Soon after that stretch ended came one of the season’s lowlights, a 4-1 defeat at Goodison Park by West Bromwich Albion, an awful way to end November and a result that threatened to plunge the Toffees into a midwinter depression. What happened in the next three games perhaps summed up Everton’s season: a 1-1 draw with Chelsea and a 2-1 victory over Manchester City sandwiching a 0-0 home draw with Wigan Athletic; two excellent results bookending one enormous disappointment. Everton spent much of the rest of the winter struggling for consistency, picking up the occasional good result – a 2-2 draw at Anfield, a 2-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur – but experiencing too many results like the 1-0 defeat at Stoke City on New Year’s Day or the pair of 2-2 draws with relegated West Ham United.
It was in the spring that Everton’s form turned once and for all. After losing 2-0 to Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium – a week after a 5-3 victory over Blackpool in one of the most enthralling games of the season – Everton went seven league games unbeaten despite a host of injuries, eventually coming unstuck against Manchester United. The Toffees then lost only one of their last four, including victories over Manchester City and Chelsea. The final tally saw Everton take four points from Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs and six from Manchester City – all sides that finished above Everton – but fail to beat West Brom, Wigan and West Ham, a damning indictment of the team’s failure to perform outside of the glamour ties.
The recovery came too late to earn a return to European football and early exits from both cup competitions – particularly the 1-0 FA Cup defeat by Championship side Reading – are heavy blots on the season. Nonetheless a fifth-consecutive top-eight finish is a fair reflection of Everton’s standing.
Coach – David Moyes: Moyes sometimes has his critics among sections of the Everton support unhappy with the side playing a lone striker, but the Scot again defied the financial odds to take the Toffees to the brink of Europe. With another summer working on a shoestring budget ahead, he must continue to unearth rough diamonds.
Player of the Season – Leighton Baines: A universal choice, left-back Baines was more than an ordinary defender throughout the season, finishing with 14 assists and seven goals to his name making him the Toffees’ joint fifth-highest scorer. His form was such that many observers tipped the former Wigan player to usurp Ashley Cole’s place in the national team.
Turning point – Newcastle United 1-2 Everton: Coming just four days after Everton lost at home to Reading in the FA Cup, an improvement was essential. Going a goal down early was a bad start but the players responded and fought back to win 2-1 and restore the growing enthusiasm of the spring.
Average starting XI:
Neville – Jagielka – Distin – Baines
Coleman – Heitinga – Arteta – Osman